Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Modern manners

Written by Thomas Blaikie

Dear Thomas,

I have fallen out with my husband’s family now for over four years. I asked them just to give us a ring before coming over as they seemed to think they could drop in whenever. They have taken the huff and my husband says he doesn’t have a life because of it. I am unwilling to back down because my friends would never just drop by, and vice versa. What do you think?

Sally Bussell, Swansea

Dear Sally,

Who says manners are superficial and don’t matter? Your awful experience just goes to show how explosive the whole issue can be. Your husband’s family pop in and out of each other’s houses all the time. They think it’s normal. You don’t. It’s a classic modern manners misunderstanding. Nobody really means to be rude.

You could try to reason with your in-laws. Why shouldn’t they phone before dropping by? You might be busy, or seeing a friend, or just too tired. You might not even be home. You’re not being unfriendly, you’re not saying you don’t want them round; you’re just being practical.

Without meaning to, you’ve probably made them feel inferior, that their manners aren’t good enough. Wherever possible use indirect means if you think people are being rude and insensitive. Rather than straightforwardly asking them to phone ahead, it might have been better to drop hints: ‘If you were thinking of passing by tomorrow, why don’t you come at such and such a time…?’ Also, you could have curtailed their visits politely: ‘Would you mind… I’m very sorry but I’ve got to get on…

Anyway, I’m sure you can invite your in-laws around and patch things up, make them feel wanted and not beneath you. Say it was all your fault, you were used to a different way of doing things…

In general, I don’t think we drop in anything like enough. It’s our British way. We don’t want to intrude. But I love the surprise. Why be locked in a ruthless routine? Why always be too busy?

When people say, ‘Do drop in if you’re nearby’, it’s always assumed they don’t mean it. Absurd. Don’t invite people to drop in if you don’t mean it.

As already mentioned, always phone ahead if planning to drop in
unless it really is a lightning visit to pass on a message or hand something over (in which case you probably live in a small community).

Don’t drop in at mealtimes unless you really are penniless and starving. If you are offered hospitality, assume your host really means it.

Hosts: offer hospitality only if you mean it. If you offer nothing, your visitors should understand they really are just dropping in.

‘Dropees’: don’t feel guilty about turning down an offer to drop in if it really is impossible.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 3940 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Gossipers

What to do about gossipers/conspirators in the workplace blatantly carrying on their ‘confi dential’ conversations? Quite a few of you have written to complain about this. They might be at the photocopier or the water fountain. You know what they’re up to – whispering together while casting furtive glances at passers-by who are pointedly excluded.

We’ve all done it, of course. Just can’t help it. But it’s not good behaviour. Some of them are showing off. They like the feeling of power. Everyone will want to know what they’re talking about. Maybe they’re even talking about you in some undermining way.

So do make sure you can’t be overheard or seen before embarking on confidential discussions. Clusters of whisperers around every corner in the office do not create a working atmosphere. At best they’re distracting, at worst thoroughly unsettling, giving a feeling of factions and cliques. Bolder readers might try to create embarrassment. Find a viable excuse to get near the conspirators (sudden urgent photocopying). Before they’ve had a chance to start talking about something else, say airily: ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m not listening.’ That’ll shut them up.

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Cook, Housekeeper wanted
Good cooking skills required to cater for light meals for the Principal and a small staff, as well as occasional lunch/dinner parties. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter